Tag Archives: family

A World of Firsts

Making the decision to study abroad wasn’t an easy one. Going abroad meant I’d be further away from my parents than I have ever been. When I was deciding what college to go to,  I chose one close to home so I could make it back to my parents whenever they needed me. My parents and I were used to being able to seeing each other weekly, so the idea of going 4 months without seeing each other was scary. But it was my parents who in the end pushed me to go. They knew it was an experience I would never get otherwise. So off I went, ready for an adventure of a lifetime that was both exhilarating and terrifying.

Being a first-generation college student means that all of my college experiences were firsts. So when I was applying for study abroad programs, I didn’t have anyone to tell me what the best countries to go to were or to help me with the process of getting my visa. I was on my own. My parents supported me in any way they could, but in the end it came down to me doing everything independently. No one in my family knew anything about Belgium, so I had nothing to go off of besides reading what I could off of Google. I think this is the biggest thing that sets me apart from other students studying abroad. I had to try and figure everything out myself. Though going through the process of applying, choosing a program, and getting ready to study abroad was definitely a growing experience for me. It made me become more independent and grow more confident in myself.

I knew my parents couldn’t come to visit me half way through like most of my friends’ did. I knew I would be without family for the entirety of my abroad experience. I see a lot of my friends get excited that their family will be coming to visit and I know that that will never be me, that I will never fully share this experience with my own family. That being said, it didn’t mean I wouldn’t try to take them with me! I had an idea of taking family photos for every new place I visited. So, I went to Hema (it’s like Target but smaller) and printed out 3 large photos of my parents and brother and took them with me around Belgium and to a trip out to Luxembourg! My mom got the family photos after all!!



Me and my family in Arlon, Belgium! Arlon is the smallest town in Belgium and right near the border to Luxembourg.


A panorama of Luxembourg! So pretty!


A photo of houses in Luxembourg City.


To any first-generation college student thinking about studying abroad, I would absolutely say do it if the circumstances are right! The fear and uncertainty that come with studying abroad dissipates as soon as you get settled in your home abroad. When things get overwhelming, take a deep breath and remember what your goals are. Filling out dozens of papers and going through hoops and obstacles to get your visa will be worth it in the end. Things will be crazy and you will go through a whirlwind of emotions, but once you feel settled, you’ll look around wherever you are and you’ll see how it was all worth it. For me, I knew I wasn’t studying abroad for just myself; I’m studying abroad for my parents too so they can see glimpses of the world through my pictures and they know I’m taking Europe on for them!



Duck faces with my family in Luxembourg City!


Tot ziens! Until next time!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Uncategorized, Western Europe

The Return (Unaffiliated with Derrick Rose)

My final days in St. Petersburg went as usual: I would avoid the massive pothole that is usually filed with water outside of our building door, I would reply to the graffiti remarks in my head on my walk to school, passing by the tastiest Georgian restaurant that became a Friday evening favorite, and running diagonally to cross a huge intersection before the cars started going for us – all done of course in St. Petersburg fashion, with rain clouds denigrating the sky in the background. Though everything appeared typical, my thoughts and pangs in my heart spoke more solemnly. This anguish was sourced from my growing relationship with my family in Russia (mom, bro, sister), knowing that although I was returning to America, I was leaving my family behind.

After five years of phoning to the city government to fix the pothole, they finally came around to it... and just plopped a pile of asphalt on a fraction of the hole. It's still progress and I will actually miss that pothole that greeted me every day before entering our building.

After five years of phoning to the city government to fix the pothole, they finally came around to it… and just plopped a pile of asphalt in a fraction of the hole. It’s still progress and I will actually miss that pothole that greeted me every day before entering our building.

This meant that I would be bereft of my Russian mother’s delicious borsch, the interesting conversations with my sister on Jewish art, and the reverberations from my brother’s guitar, voice, and even harder-hitting lyrics. The core of my sadness wasn’t simply leaving behind the aspects of their care for me, it was more so the frustration that came with knowing that they are the ones who have to continue living there during the economic hardships in Russia. Though the ruble’s depreciation may have been convenient for the American students, the hard-hitting financial, economic, and social impact on Russia that comes with major recession and high inflation is devastating to communities, including that of my host family.

I realize that this financial crisis is a burden that cannot be immediately solved by regular citizens, let alone myself, so I really had to focus on the good aspects of my experience there. On my last day in Russia, my mom there prepared a meal for the four of us, my brother prepared some music that he performed with his guitar, and my sister also participated in the entertaining conversations. When it was finally time to leave, I will never forget the sullen faces of my host mom and sister through the glass window of my taxi. The taxi driver asked me if I was going home and with a brief moment to think, I replied with, “da.”

I am very thankful for the love, care, and hospitality that my host family in Russia provided. We are a team that is not to be separated anytime soon. I have made a promise to return and I choose to live by my word.

I am also very thankful for the excitement and mirth of the holiday season in America. Upon my return, streets were gleaming with decorative lights, Christmas trees were elaborately and sumptuously adorned, and my friends and family welcomed me with wide smiles and open arms. I think that if it weren’t for Christmas, my 21st birthday and New Years all within three days of each other, my return would have been a little more gloomy. Fortunately, I am surrounded by loved ones that made my adjustment back to the States as warm and welcoming as a cup of Russian tea.

Until next time, my dear St. Petersburg.

As the famous saying goes, you can take the girl out of Russia, but you can't take the Russia out of the girl. Adorned with a Soviet wool scarf on Christmas Day.

As the famous saying goes, you can take the girl out of Russia, but you can’t take the Russia out of the girl. Adorned with a Soviet wool scarf on Christmas Day.

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Filed under Boryana in Russia, Eastern Europe

Goodbye and Hello

I’ve been stateside now, back in Idaho, for one week. It’s really great to be back at home with my family and friends. But there’s also a feeling of sadness or emptiness too, as I’ve left my other home and family.

Goodbye is such a trite expression. But when we actually have to say it, and really mean it, it’s profound. It hurts. Saying goodbye to Barcelona, my host-family, and the new friends, it’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But that’s the bittersweet moment of study abroad I suppose. To know that you’ve done something incredible.

So onto the topic at hand, reverse-culture shock.

As I stepped off the plane, the first thing I see are the rolling barren hills of the surrounding horizon. Not more than a hundred yards from my town’s tiny airport is the familiar site of rundown trailer parks and uninspiring housing. There is no architecture. There is no art. There really is no culture to speak of in that regard. Because where I’m from is a simple place. Its history is brief compared to that of Barcelona. So it’s not really fair to even compare the two. But I would be lying if I said if I wasn’t just a tad shocked to remember that I was just in one of the most bustling and beautiful cities on the planet and now here I am in something so mundane and simple.

I was also surprised to see enormous vehicles again, and not a moto-scooter in sight. I suppose what adds to the emptiness of my home is that there are no people just walking about or casually sitting at street-side food and bar establishments. The culture here in the States, even in our largest cities, is for everyone to own a vehicle and drive it. So despite my city of 35,000 being literally 1/20th the size of Barcelona, the traffic felt just as bad.

The day after I got back, I went to the grocery store with my girlfriend. It wasn’t my usual street-front fresh produce stand, but instead a big box store, another icon of American culture. As we perused the isles, I was awe-struck for just a moment that I could understand every single conversation happening around me. No longer was I bombarded with Catalan, Spanish, Chinese, German, etc.. just English. I haven’t decided if I like that or not — but at least now I can be certain I’m not being teased in a language I don’t understand! 🙂

My girlfriend and I are hosting a little dinner with Spanish and Catalan style cuisine at our house, in an effort to maybe bring some of what I experienced abroad, home with us. That’s all we or anyone can do really. By bringing some of it back with you, using it in your life, you can hold on to some of those memories.

In the coming weeks I am applying for graduate school. I definitely believe this study abroad experience will benefit my application and make me standout from others. This truly is a unique and life-changing experience. I look forward to encouraging others as I go on in my studies and career to study abroad — take advantage of opportunities like the Gilman or the Fulbright and a host of others.

A sincere thanks comes from my heart to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Gilman Scholarship Program, and to my family and friends (wherever they are in the world).

Be excellent to each other.


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Filed under Dustin in Spain, Western Europe

The Various Stages of Culture Shock, Homesickness, and Reverse Culture Shock

When I first arrived in Spain, it took a few weeks before I fully adjusted to everything: the bizarre eating schedule, the food tastes, the money, the unknown streets, not to mention the language barrier. However, I knew that if I threw myself into it, I could overcome the challenges and learn to enjoy myself. Initially, that worked. It was a new country with new people and places to see; I loved trying everything new and soaking up as much of it as quickly as I could. Eventually though, I couldn’t take it; I became overwhelmed with the differences, and the having to think in a foreign language constantly became mentally exhausting. I really started to miss home, and I’d only been abroad for a few short weeks. I missed late night Steak n Shake runs with my friends, peanut butter, mac n cheese, and going to the movies.

Honestly, one of my biggest mistakes was going to my Facebook and talking to everyone back at home. Instead of making me feel better, I felt worse. However, my parents surprised me by sending me a package full of American junk food, so that made me feel a bit better. My host sister helped me out as well. After a few weeks of staying with her, she introduced me to her friends (who were also my age) and I was invited to one of their parties. It was fun, and they kept insisting that I spoke Spanish very well, which was certainly a major confidence booster. A few weeks after that, we all went to a movie together, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could understand almost all of the movie, despite it being completely in Spanish, without subtitles.

The homesickness came and went. I had days where I really missed home and others where I felt like I could stay in Spain forever. Eventually, I had to say goodbye to all the friends I had made while in Spain, including the host family that I had grown so close to over the past few months. Saying goodbye was hard, but I still e-mail them and let them know how I am doing when I have time. When I got home though, after the first few weeks of catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in months, I wanted nothing more than to go back to Spain. English just sounded ugly to me, and my stomach turned at the sight of certain foods here. But, I now love putting olive oil in most foods now, and even though I can’t help but slip into Spanish sometimes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing! I’ve been able to successfully communicate with a few Spanish-speaking customers at my summer job as a cashier, and I’ve chatted with a friend of mine who studied abroad in Peru. We’re constantly comparing cultural differences while also improving our language skills. Though I do still miss Spain, I know that my place is here for now, and that my experience and knowledge gained while there will be invaluable in the future.

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Filed under Tyler in Spain, Western Europe

Russian Food

There are many similarities between Russian and American food culture, however, some differences make themselves apparent. For example, food is mass-produced in the United States. Therefore, a lot of extra chemicals and preservatives are added to keep them up to Federal Health Standards. Russian food however, is always shipped as raw materials, so everything ordered at restaurants is made from scratch. It took a couple of weeks to adjust my stomach to eating the food in Moscow because they use so much butter and raw ingredients. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. People from the west do not have this kind of eating experience so it naturally takes some getting used to.



My favorite Russian foods so far are blini (like a crêpe served with condensed milk), perogi with pasta dough, and shwarma (though technically this is Uzbeck food). There are food stands all over the city and buying food from here is actually cheaper than going to international fast food places such as McDonald’s and Burger King. It is about 34 rubles to a Dollar in the current market. So a meal at McDonald’s would cost about 400-500 rubles. At a stand on the street that serves traditional Russian food, you can get a bigger meal for 135 rubles (tell me a place in America that will serve you an entire meal for 4 dollars….).


Cooking Russian Food russian_food1






Lastly, it is very important to Russians to dine with family and/or friends. In America, we generally eat when we are hungry and often by ourselves when we are on the go. In Russia, even the foreign students use the consumption of a meal as an excuse to socialize, sit around and table, and talk about their day or simple things. The social aspect of a meal is a custom that I grew accustomed to right away. This is something that I hope to be able to incorporate into my life back in the States.

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Filed under Eastern Europe, Sean in Russia

Adapting to Life in the Clouds

When I signed up to spend four months in Peru, I knew the first few weeks would be a challenge for me.  I knew no one in Cuzco, the city which I now inhabit.  I had only taken one formal Spanish course in the university, which is far less than most who study abroad in a country that does not speak their native language.  I was able to converse on a basic level with Spanish-speaking friends back home, but whenever my vocabulary faltered we could just switch to English.  No one speaks English in neither the clinic where I intern nor my host home, so that safety net was left in the U.S.  I knew this was exactly what I had signed up for, but I began to realize that all my thoughts couldn’t adequately prepare me for setting foot in another country for the first time.  Excitement and nervousness churned together in a maelström that consumed my thoughts for several weeks before departure.

Upon arrival, everything started coming together.  Cuzco is a beautiful city, full of  rich history and exquisite natural beauty.  I have adored mountains, since taking up rock climbing after a visit to Yosemite, CA.  At an elevation over 11,000 feet, which is about one-third the cruising altitude of many commercial jets, mountains are inescapable.  Awe washed over my exhausted body as I stepped off the plane and looked at the spectacular green peaks around me.  When my host family came to pick me up, I was relieved that my Spanish was sufficient to communicate with them.  Life would not entirely become a game of charades for the next four months.  Female Peruvians greet men and women by touching cheeks and kissing the air.  I knew these greetings were coming, but I still had some apprehension about putting them into practice.  I quickly learned that going with the flow is the optimal protocol for figuring out cultural differences like that one.  Additionally, I was fortunate enough to evade altitude sickness upon my arrival to this city in this clouds.  Within a day or two, my previous apprehensions had settled.

Main Street in Cuzco, Peru

Main Street in Cuzco, Peru

Despite the lessening of this initial apprehension, there have been difficult situations to navigate and days that were hard to endure.  For example, Peruvian public transport system is very different from the car-dominated area where I live in the states.  I need to ride the bus 30 minutes every day to arrive at Clínica Belenpampa, where my internship is held.  The bus system here is not organized the same was as in the U.S.  Instead of having a list of when each bus route will arrive at my stop, buses come and go as they please.  Each bus has a designated advertiser that shouts the stops and tries to convince people to get on.  Buses navigating the same route under the same name are not an identical set; my inability to recognize this in homogeneity has caused me to wait for extended periods of time at bus stops on numerous occasions.  Additionally, to get off the bus, there is no string to pull to let the driver know that you would like to get off at the next stop.  Instead, the advertiser shouts the stop names so that everyone can hear, then listens to hear if anyone requests to get off.  When sitting in the back of a packed bus with all seats filled and two rows of people in the aisle, communication with the front is difficult.  More than once I have realized I was going to be late to my next destination as the bus flew by my stop.

That said, minor frustrations such as buses or the language barrier cannot stop me from loving this place.  What I most appreciate and want to make sure I integrate into my life is the Peruvian approach to relationships.  For example, when a Peruvian walks into a room full of family, they greet every person individually.  A broad “hello” is not enough, because you are not showing your appreciation for each individual.  I was invited to a family reunion with my host family this weekend in a nearby town, and I got to see the Peruvian value of family and relationships first hand.  I did not time how long it took my host father to say goodbye to everyone, but I promise that everyone left that gathering knowing they were part of a loving family that cherished them.  There are certainly cases of tight families in United States, but Peruvian culture seems to be a system that fosters care and value to all who partake in it.

Overall, my experience suggests that the most critical component of adjusting to a new culture is staying engaged.  Getting frustrated should not lead to retracting and pulling away; it should nurture a new understanding that will inform the future.  Every day I learn how to better navigate the bus system.  Every day I learn a more of the medical Spanish that is rattled off at break-neck speed in the clinic.  This ability to learn and grow in a new culture is often dependent on our ability to continue to pursue understanding and friendship even in the midst of miscommunication and frustration.

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Filed under Michael in Peru, south america

¡Bienvenidos to Jordan!

Oh sorry, I think that came out wrong…yep, it definitely came out wrong!  Though I’ve been studying Arabic for two years now, Spanish (my second language) squeaks out fairly often in regular conversation.  My experience since arriving in Jordan at the end of August has been exhilarating to say the least, but until brainstorming for this very post I did not realized how much I had been affected by culture shock.  It has had a subtle, yet penetrating influence on my journey thus far.
You see, a couple years ago I took a break from college and moved to Chile for two years where I became quite accustomed to maneuvering through the often complicated cultural norms that bind people together.  My only true hope for navigating the wide chasm which separated my culture from Chile’s was Spanish, and so by necessity I learned it.  In addition to the language I also had to learn to make do with the insane bus drivers, the abundance of stray dogs, and the empanadas (okay, that part was easy).  Though I faced culture shock there, I dealt with it the way that I presume all do; with peanut butter, maple syrup, and time.
Fast forward four years.  I am now married and have a little two-year old boy and I have dragged them both to the other side of the world for four months just to learn Arabic.  “Oh boy,” you think, “this kid took his family to the Middle East!  Is he crazy?”  Yes.  Nonetheless, I figured that I had experience traveling the world and acclimatizing to different cultures and languages.  I would surely know how to handle myself and take care of my family; culture shock won’t get me; I have already gone through that once.  It shouldn’t happen again right?  No.  Wrong.  It has happened again and it has taken me until now to recognize it.  The way my brain has subconsciously dealt with it this time is by going back to my safest home-away-from-home to seek refuge: Chile.
Just as my brain reverts back to my only other non-native language (Spanish) for support, it also reverts back to my only other non-native home (Chile) for support.  I compare everything here to Chile.  I look at the chaotic traffic and say, “that’s how they drive in Chile.”  I look at the cereal and say, “they have that cereal in Chile.”  I look at the people and say, “that’s what Chileans used to do.”  In my frenzied attempt to adapt to the new surroundings I found shelter in my only other meaningful international experience and convinced myself that it was all the same.  Needless to say, the cultural chasm we face here is much wider than the one I faced in that narrow stretch of land on the Western shore of South America.  Not only is the language infinitely more complex, but the tightly-woven cultural, historical, political, and religious overtones saturate daily life in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  I am thrilled to be here for another couple months.  As my Arabic improves, I am able to delve deeper into the lives and experiences of the people I meet, which gives such a rich meaning to everything we experience here.  That makes this “culture shock” thing totally worth it.
Well, that’s all for now, ¡Nos vemo…oops, I mean bashufku in sha’ allah!
!بشوفكوا إن شاء الله

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Filed under David in Jordan, middle east